Time wounds all heels

When I was a boy I was taught ITA spelling. ITA stands for Initial Teaching Alphabet. The idea was to teach phonetic spelling. As a consequence, despite years of ongoing effort and practice I still find myself misspelling homonyms - words pronounced the same but spelled differently. Words such as they're, their, and there. There (have to check it now...) are loads of them in English. I mentioned this to a friend on an email list a while back and he replied "What were they thinking?" Quite.

Here's an example of how it can affect me - an anonymous quote I've read in two of Jerry Weinberg's books:

Time wounds all heels.

When I read this I just didn't get it. I knew I didn't understand it and I kept trying to. But to no avail. Why couldn't I understand it? Answer: because I was reading it as:

Time wounds all heals.

The word wounds was nudging my ITA brain to see/hear the word heel as heal. They naturally fit together as opposites after all! And of course in reverse it is heal - Time heals all wounds.

How did time suddenly heal my wound and reveal the true meaning to me? It was while I was attending Jerry Weinberg's Problem Solving Leadership course. Jerry was talking about "Time wounds all heels" and he simply said the words "Achilles" and "heel" one after the other. And in that moment I understood! Heel. Heel. Not Heal. Time wounds all heals. Damn. I did it again. I really did. Time wounds all heels. Your (that's one I've learned I have to check... no it's not you're) Achilles heel is your (again) weak (not week) spot.

Switch - how to change things when change is hard

is an excellent book (isbn 978-1-84-794031-5). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.
Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource... What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.
What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.
TBU - true but useless.
Knowledge does not change behaviour. We have all encountered crazy shrinks and obese doctors and divorced marriage counsellors.
To be clear, it's not so much that you're a brilliant predictor; it's that he's a lousy self-evaluator. We're all lousy self-evaluators.
When milestones seemed to distant, they should look for "inch pebbles".
Coaches are masters of shrinking the change.
Stanford psychologist Lee Ross... noted that people have a systematic tendency to ignore the situational forces that shape other people's behaviour. he called this deep-rooted tendency the "Fundamental Attribution Error."
With hard goals, action triggers almost tripled the chance of success.

We are not nouns, we are verbs

Stephen Fry was interviewed in this weeks Radio Times. The following snippet caught my attention:

Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it - that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing - an actor, a writer - I am a person who does things - I write, I act - and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.


When things start to think

by Neil Gershenfeld is an excellent book (isbn 0-340-75039-1). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
The fibres that make up a sheet are actually translucent. Light striking the paper gets bent as it passes through a fiber, and since there are so many fibres this happens many times in many directions. The result of all this scattering is that the light spreads through the paper much like the spread of a drop of ink, eventually leaking back out. ... This phenomenon, called optical weak localization, is what makes the paper (or a glass of milk) appear to be white.
There are deep reasons why the old technologies in a book work so well... What jumps out the first time you see a Gutenberg Bible is the glossiness of the ink. It turns out that Gutenberg made his inks by cooking a stew of oil and copper and lead that precipitated out little platelets that act like tiny mirrors, paradoxically reflecting light from a black background.
Freed from the constraint of duplicating manuscripts, Aldus Manutius in Venice around 1500 then settled on the dimensions of the modern book. It was designed to fit in the saddlebags of traveling scholars, and his Press developed the italics font, to fill the pages more efficiently than did fonts that imitated handwriting.
If you're offered a better computer program, it's not possible to peer inside and judge how it works.
It requires great discipline to put just enough of the right kind of information in the right place to communicate the desired message rather than a printer demo.
Like all good scientific discoveries, the seeds of Lorenz's observation can be found much earlier.
Good help is as hard to find in the digital world as it is in the real one.
Naming the solution is not the same as obtaining it.
It's all too easy to defer thinking to a seductive computer program.
The brain's internal representation is not designed for external consumption.
The world is the next interface.

It's often a situation problem

In a previous blog post I commented on a recurring theme in several software classics - the idea that it's always a people problem. I was reminded of that sound-byte today while reading Switch - How to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath. Their surprising-thing-about-change number 1 (of 3) is
What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.
I prefer this version, partly because it uses the word often rather than always and so it follows Bill Bailey's Law. But mostly I prefer it because saying "it's always a people problem" feels demotivating because we are all people and you get drawn into thinking you're the problem. As Deming made clear, the root cause of most problems is not the people but the system. But the word "situation" is simpler and somehow easier to grasp than "system". It's clear your always in the situation that you're in.

A related quote from Switch is
to change someone's behavior you've got to change their situation.
I like this a lot and it reminds me of the various quotes about acting your way into thinking differently being easier than thinking your way into acting differently...
Sometimes it’s easier to act your self into a new way of thinking, than it is to think your self into a new way of acting. (Jo Berry)
You cannot change how someone thinks, but you can give them a tool, the use of which leads them to think differently. (R. Buckminster Fuller - quoted in The Fifth Discpline by Peter Senge)
Adults are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting. (Richard Pascale's in Surfing the Edge of Chaos)
Or, to say it in reverse
Knowledge does not change behavior.
So instead of saying "it's always a people problem" perhaps it is better to say "it's rarely a people problem"

Gandhi an autobiography

is an excellent book (isbn 978-0-141-03273-3). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
All his life he held to two fundamental principles, a belief in Ahimsa, or non-violence, and the concept of Satya, or truth; as he said: 'My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth.'
Renunciation of objects, without the renunciation of desires, is short-lived, however hard you may try.
Jealousy does not wait for reasons.
I had been advised to collect certificates of my having abstained from meat, and I asked the English friend to give me one. He gladly gave it and I treasured it for some time. But when I saw later that one could get such a certificate in spite of being a meat-eater, it lost all its charm for me.
Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth.
Great men never look at a person's exterior. They think of his heart.
Rest assured it takes no unusual skill to be an ordinary lawyer. Common honesty and industry are enough to enable him to make a living. All cases are not complicated.
I scrupulously avoided hurting their feelings.
It went against the grain with me to do a thing in secret that I would not do in public.
The heart's earnest and pure desire is always fulfilled.
Service can have no meaning unless one takes pleasure in it.

Long Walk to Freedom

is an excellent book (isbn 978-0-349-10653-3). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
I maintain that nurture, rather than nature, is the primary moulder of personality.
I did well in school not so much through cleverness as through doggedness.
These [meetings] were not scheduled, but were called as needed... Everyone who wanted to speak did so... People spoke without interruption...
Majority rule was a foreign notion. A minority was not to be crushed by a majority.
This metal wire, he said, pointing above, is an example of Western manufacturing, which is skilful but cold, clever but soulless.
I could compensate for lack of natural aptitude with diligence and discipline. I applied this to everything I did.
There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have changed.
Gaur believed in finding solutions rather than spouting theory.
I was far more certain in those days of what I was against than what I was for.
If fine bodies and impressive physiques were essential to being a leader, I saw that few among us would have qualified.
If you wait for textbook conditions, they will never occur.
Class, Nyerere always insisted, was alien to Africa; socialism indigenous.
I did not think this view [always rejecting bail] should be universally applied and believed we should examine the issue on a case-by-case basis.
Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose because I will not part with it at any price or under any pressure.

cyber-dojo server is up

The first cyber-dojo server is up, at http://www.cyber-dojo.org Please note the hyphen - the url without the hyphen was not available. The infrastructure is very very very rudimentary, but it's a start. Something to learn from and build on. Any feedback always welcome.

Have you got any strawberries?

I was driving along the A303 towards Gatwick last week and passed several stalls selling strawberries. It reminded me of an incident many years ago, before the kids were born, on the same road when Natalie and I stopped to buy some. We approached the stall. The only thing it sold was strawberries. It was a strawberry stall. Everywhere you looked here were open punnets of strawberries. With a twinkle in my eye I looked at the two young lads manning the stall and watched their puzzled faces as I asked "Have you got any strawberries?"

The World's Least Favourite Airline?

I had a great family cruise on NCL's Norwegian Gem visiting Venice, Dubrovnik, Izmir, Athens, and Nafplion. I particularly liked Dubrovnik and the ruins at Ephesus are truly spectacular and were well worth the long taxi ride from Izmir. NCL was faultless in all respects and I have no hesitation wholeheartedly recommending NCL, it's cruises and its staff.

But not British Airways…the BA flight home from Venice to Gatwick was a joke. There were numerous check in desks at the airport and the only one with a sizeable queue was BA's. In fact the BA queue was so long it blocked one side of the building from the other. I looked (and asked) for some self-service check-in desks and found quite a few from many airline companies but none from BA. The day's first flight from Venice to Gatwick was so late we got to see the end of that fiasco too. It was over-booked and several people queued for two and half hours in sweltering heat only to fail to get a boarding pass. These people naturally joined the queue for the next flight so that flight was overbooked too. But did anyone walk along the queue offering cash to anyone willing to take a later flight? No. So once again some people at the end of the queue were going to fail to get a ticket after queuing for several hours. While the first flight's queue was queueing security had to be called because everything was so badly organised. As usual one of the check-in desks was reserved for Club-something-or-other and so sat mostly idle while the queue lengthened and people grew more and more irate.

We were on the second BA flight out. Having seen the problems from earlier in the day we joined the queue very early. It was a wise move as the queueing was just as badly organised. Eventually we got to the check-in desk and just after we had got our boarding passes I happened to see a not-so-easy-to-see note offering €250 if you took a flight the next day. And just after we had got our boarding passes the check-in lady told us the flight was delayed for an hour - which of course meant it would be delayed for more than one hour - why do they always underestimate the delay? If we had been told the flight had been delayed before we started checking in we might well have taken the offer. We certainly would have given it some serious consideration. And why if they know it's an hour late don't they show that information on the departure boards?

It would have been so easy for BA to do the little things that showed they cared about their customers. Something as simple as providing some kind of cool drink for people while they queued in the heat. It wouldn't be much, but it would be something and it would change the situation so completely. But no.

Over and over you felt BA simply didn't care about you.

I fly quite a lot and from now on if I have a choice - and on several routes I do - I'm not going to fly BA.

The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

is an excellent book (isbn 0-451-53038-1). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
In an incautious moment my parents had promised that I should never be sent to school until I asked leave to go. This promise I afterward learned began to give them considerable uneasiness because as I grew up I showed no disposition to ask.
He is a bold man who calls anything a trifle.
The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives you nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves.
The celebrated maxim of Confucius: To perform the duties of this life well, troubling not about another, is prime wisdom.
Whenever one learns to do anything he has never to wait long for an opportunity of putting his knowledge to use.
How reserved the Scot is! Where he feels most he expresses least. Silence is more eloquent than words.
Slight attention or a kind word to the humble often bring back reward as great as it is unlooked for. No kind action is ever lost.
Even in these days of the fiercest competition, when everything would seem to be matter of price, there lies still at the root of great business success the very much more important factor of quality.
No sound judgement can remain with the man whose mind is disturbed by the mercurial changes of the Stock Exchange. It places him under an influence akin to intoxication. What is not, he sees, and what he sees, is not.
Mr Pullman replied: "Yes, my friends, all that you say is true. I have had a long, long life full of troubles, but there is one curious fact about them - nine tenths of them never happened."

Trondheim XP Agile cyber-dojo

Anders Hammervold and Jonas Follesø organized a cyber-dojo for the Trondheim XP Agile group yesterday. Anders tells me great fun was had by all.

Managing the design factory

is an excellent book by Don Reinertsen (isbn 0-684-83991-1). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
Best practices are only "best" in certain contexts and to achieve certain objectives. A change in either the context or the objective can quickly transform a "best practice" into a stupid approach.
We must constantly remember that the simplification [of the abstraction] is a veil between us and the reality of the process.
Manufacturing is an inherently repetitive process and therefore more likely to produce learning than a non-repetitive process, like product development.
In the design process we can only add value when we do something differently. If we change nothing, then we add no value.
We will see much more variability in the design process than we see in repetitive manufacturing process. This variability is an indicator that we are doing something new in the design process, and thus that we are adding value.
Risk and the variability associated with it, are inherent and desirable characteristics of design processes. They are at the heart of a design process's capacity to generate information.
The design factory needs variability, so it needs tools that allow us to coexist with variability.
When you dig below the surface you discover that most change programs are motivated by two forces: imitation and obedience.
Events that are less probable contain more information.
Our testing processes need to have an adequate failure rate to generate sufficient information.
Each iteration starts on the base of the quality of the previous pass.
A process is a way of preserving learning that occurs when doing an activity.